Why We Need to Stop Using the Term “Disrupt”

We hear it frequently, we bandy about the term casually, and it’s been used so much more often now that there’s a pretty significant event named after it.


“Disruptive Innovation.”

“Disruptive Tech.”

I understand it — there’s a need to shake up the way we’re doing things, and we’re trying to find language that’s powerful enough to articulate that kind of movement. Right?

WRONG. This is so, so wrong. Perhaps it’s the English major in me that finds buzzwords like this so offensive, or perhaps it’s because I just really, really, really care about words.

But let’s all of us agree to stop using the term “disrupt.” Today. Because it’s just plain incorrect.

It was kind of cool for awhile. A little shocking, maybe — like seeing the first Harlem Shake video.

But just like any other trend, it’s been played out. It’s gotten out of control, really, and we need to start thinking about what we’re really doing here when we describe something as “disruptive.”

When people use the term “disruptive” to talk about a product, what they’re actually trying to communicate is the potential that the technology has for changing outdated methods or systems. Except they’re failing at communicating that. 

Just last week, in this Forbes article, some of the issues seen in health care were discussed, along with how technology will disrupt that system.

“Point-of-care,” or POC, technology has seen vast amounts of progress, especially in the last few years, and the article goes on to describe just what kinds of improvements are being made in health care because of POC tech, and what further progress we’ll likely see.

Google isn’t the only player trying to disrupt the diabetes-monitoring business.  Microchips too, a Massachusetts based startup, is developing an implantable biochemical sensor to monitor blood-glucose levels.  Both Google and Microchips could collect data continuously and inform the patient or his or her caregiver or physician of diabetic emergencies.

What we’re actually talking about here is the huge amount of opportunity there is for this kind of technology to seriously impact and improve how individuals get the care they need.

And, folks, that isn’t disruptive AT ALL.

No — that’s called “fulfilling a need,” or “providing a solution.”

That’s what I would call the opposite of disruptive.

I totally understand using memes or trends, so that you’re able to relate to your audience and participate in the same conversations that they are.

But if you need a trendy buzzword to gain traction around your new product or platform, to make your pitch more interesting, or to get people to pay attention — you’re probably going to fizzle out, just like the “disruptive” trend will.

Instead, let’s talk about the lives we’re improving, how we’re helping others with the technology we’re creating. Let’s talk about all of the opportunities we’re creating.

And let’s use the right words to do that.

Rachel Winstead

Rachel is a freelance writer and works at Soap Hope in downtown Dallas. She hates the term "disrupt," tweets about startups, and appreciates a well-crafted hashtag.